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August 20, 2009: "Black and White" 
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Post Re: August 20, 2009: "Black and White"
Well, I did read White's article that JB linked. Alas, I only understood about half of what he wrote; e.g., "Critics talk around what’s happening inside Pedro Costa or Apichatpong Weerasethakul movies." ??? It's clear to me that he's writing strictly for a New York audience; no films from either of those guys will likely show up within 200 miles from where I live.

In this article, he also comes across a quite a bitter man. His attacks on Ebert seem almost to cross the line into personal attacks. Although he wishes Ebert well healthwise, he clearly despises Ebert's mode of film criticism. I just don't understand that point of view. While I may disagree with Ebert (and every other critic) sometimes, it's hard to argue against 99% of his Great Films list.

What's more surprising to me is how much energy has been expended by so many people to denigrate this guy. Perhaps it's a sign of the high unemployment in today's economy: too many people with not enough to do.


Fri Aug 21, 2009 5:29 pm
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Post Re: August 20, 2009: "Black and White"
jkberden wrote:
However, Roger Ebert swaying his opinion of a critic who goes against the film grain - and for that reason alone - is an hypocrisy. Roger Ebert, by the same token, has said, via rating, that the Nicolas Cage blockbuster 'Knowing' is a better film, with four stars, than 'A Clockwork Orange', 'Fight Club', 'Die Hard', 'Blue Velvet', 'The Usual Suspects', 'Reservoir Dogs', and 'Deliverance' - which range from 2 1/2 stars to 1 star. That's a relatively large chunk of recent film history to be disputing. If you visit an IMDB page of any of these films, you will find a thread or two proclaiming Ebert a troll for disliking those films. The idea that Ebert is offended (oh golly gosh!) that Armond White likes 'Transformers 2' over 'There Will Be Blood' to the point of being a turncoat is a little silly. My opinion of Ebert hasn't changed, for good or bad, with this small saga, but nevertheless I am slightly disappointed with how flimsy his backbone seems to be in defending another critic.

Not the Mr. Ebert needs me to come to his defense, but here I go anyways...Your point is well taken, but I don't think it is really fair. With the exception of Blue Velvet and, arguably, Usual Suspects, Ebert didn't really eviscerate the films you listed. They just didnt get glowing reviews that they largely received from other critics. I admit, I havent read all the reviews that Mr. White has given the films on the flow chart that Ebert referenced, but my understanding is Mr. White is quite clear in his disdain of said films.

Besides, all critics have their examples of their opinion differing from the norm. This is to be expected, especially when a critic has been around as long as Ebert has. The listed films cover about three decades. However, the films in that flowchart are mainly from the past 3 years or so. To compare Ebert's "troll-like" tendencies to White's is rather ridiculous. Look at that chart! If you knew nothing about this person except his feelings on these films, would you really take anything this person had to say concerning movies seriously? Seriously?



I see the principle of your point, but as to whether I take Armond White 'seriously', I'm not sure that any film or review can decide that. The entire body of work a critic churns out over their careers should have the characteristic of consistency in terms of both quality of writing and should give you a clear idea of the values they hold more than if they simply liked film A, B, C, D, or Q. If critic picks nothing but good films each year but has no way of communicating that praise in a way which creates a sturdy precedent, then their merits as a critic would be dispensable. As far as I am concerned, Armond White has a set of principles, and even if he is most definitely not a perfect critic, he adheres to them and rejects compromise, the same way you might praise James for so doing. Mr. White's taste isn't really my business to judge, and although I do not agree with him very often (if I woke up with his brain I may very well take some sleeping pills), he makes his preferences clear and states them with conviction and considerable skill.


Fri Aug 21, 2009 5:45 pm
Post Re: August 20, 2009: "Black and White"
evenflow, I am sure Ebert was 100% honest. Why? Because I think he is an honest guy. It would have been too cheap to lie about that. You don't have to agree.

James, doesn't the fact that White loves so many movies most of the other critics hate and hates so many movies most of the other critics love makes you get suspicious? Does it just happen that he feels that way or does he feel the need to be on the opposite side? And the fact that he likes Spielberg movies and other well regarded films doesn't mean so much I think. It's like saying, he's bad but not so much.


Fri Aug 21, 2009 5:57 pm
Post Re: August 20, 2009: "Black and White"
Jim85 wrote:
evenflow, I am sure Ebert was 100% honest. Why? Because I think he is an honest guy. It would have been too cheap to lie about that. You don't have to agree.



Your interpretation is as valid as mine, no more and not any less. That's elementary. Whether or not you serve your point very well, I am unsure. But I don't mind arguing it out :)


Fri Aug 21, 2009 6:15 pm
Post Re: August 20, 2009: "Black and White"
I see the principle of your point, but as to whether I take Armond White 'seriously', I'm not sure that any film or review can decide that. The entire body of work a critic churns out over their careers should have the characteristic of consistency in terms of both quality of writing and should give you a clear idea of the values they hold more than if they simply liked film A, B, C, D, or Q. If critic picks nothing but good films each year but has no way of communicating that praise in a way which creates a sturdy precedent, then their merits as a critic would be dispensable. As far as I am concerned, Armond White has a set of principles, and even if he is most definitely not a perfect critic, he adheres to them and rejects compromise, the same way you might praise James for so doing. Mr. White's taste isn't really my business to judge, and although I do not agree with him very often (if I woke up with his brain I may very well take some sleeping pills), he makes his preferences clear and states them with conviction and considerable skill.

Very well said, and I agree with you on pretty much everything. No single film or review should be the deciding the factor in how "seriously" one should take another's opinions. However, as that flow chart illustrates, recently Mr. White's taste have been, let's say, peculiar at best. I can totally see how Ebert could rationally conclude he is a "troll" without being hypocritical.


Fri Aug 21, 2009 6:16 pm
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Post Re: August 20, 2009: "Black and White"
Jim85 wrote:
James, doesn't the fact that White loves so many movies most of the other critics hate and hates so many movies most of the other critics love makes you get suspicious? Does it just happen that he feels that way or does he feel the need to be on the opposite side? And the fact that he likes Spielberg movies and other well regarded films doesn't mean so much I think. It's like saying, he's bad but not so much.


No, it doesn't make me suspicious. His opinion of film has been formed as a result of where he was born and grew up, what kind of education he had, and all of his life experiences to date. As I have said before, no two people see exactly the same movie. We all have a slightly different filter. In White's case, his filter is obviously considerably different, but no less valid.

I have no problem with his opinions, but I sometimes have a problem with the way he presents them.


Sat Aug 22, 2009 11:03 am
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Post Re: August 20, 2009: "Black and White"
Evenflow8112 wrote:
Jim85 wrote:
evenflow, I am sure Ebert was 100% honest. Why? Because I think he is an honest guy. It would have been too cheap to lie about that. You don't have to agree.


Your interpretation is as valid as mine, no more and not any less. That's elementary. Whether or not you serve your point very well, I am unsure. But I don't mind arguing it out :)


There's one thing you're missing here, Evenflow. White never claims he heard these words directly from Kael. In fact, he goes out of his way to say things like "It is reported." This means he's relaying hearsay, gossip. He does not identify a source. Ebert, on the other hand, states directly what happened (or did not happen) between himself and Kael. It would be a different matter altogether if White claimed that Kael had made this statement to him, but that's not what he's saying.

I take Ebert at face value. He has no reason to lie about this, and he and Kael were on good terms until her death in 2001. The problem with White's statement is that he represents dubious, second-hand information as "truth," and implies special knowledge by invoking the term "insider." He did not fact check (a quick e-mail to Ebert would have been sufficient).


Sat Aug 22, 2009 11:19 am
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Post Re: August 20, 2009: "Black and White"
Having been a forum/internet dweller for the better part of the past decade, I've read my share of writers I've disagreed with and made my share of idiotic comments towards their opinions.

But at some point, you do have to realize, as long as the writer is being genuine about his opinion, bashing him for it is silly. I've never read White - so I have no idea whether or not claims that he intentionally goes against the grain are accurate - but it pains me to see so many people over at RT or wherever jump all over anyone they disagree with and try and tear them apart.


Sat Aug 22, 2009 5:32 pm
Post Re: August 20, 2009: "Black and White"
James Berardinelli wrote:
As I have said before, no two people see exactly the same movie. We all have a slightly different filter. In White's case, his filter is obviously considerably different, but no less valid.

I have no problem with his opinions, but I sometimes have a problem with the way he presents them.



By the way, on topic but nevertheless in a different arena, Ebert praised Armond White's review of 'District 9', which cited a foreign film, 'You, The Living', a much better film
[Reveal] Spoiler:
and less absurdly apocalyptic (his rationale, not mine)
than Neill Blomkamp's feature. Do you have any opinion on 'You, The Living', or have future plans to see it?


Sat Aug 22, 2009 5:55 pm
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Joined: Sat Aug 22, 2009 6:19 pm
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Post Re: August 20, 2009: "Black and White"
For once I've found something good about being close minded. About the only reviews I've read since around 1996 have been Mr. Berardinelli's. Although I very often don't agree with his ratings, I appreciate his style and consistency. From those I can usually make a determination whether or not the movie will be for me. I'm not sure, from the description of Mr. White's work, that I would be able to do that based on his reviews. In all likelihood I won't ever try.


Sat Aug 22, 2009 7:08 pm
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Post Re: August 20, 2009: "Black and White"
Roger Ebert gave Knowing 4 stars, but it's his opinion, just like White for liking TF:2 over There Will Be Blood.


Sat Aug 22, 2009 8:17 pm
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Post Re: August 20, 2009: "Black and White"
Yeah, and he gave Orphan 3 and a half stars.


Sat Aug 22, 2009 8:38 pm
Post Re: August 20, 2009: "Black and White"
TheOutlawXanadu wrote:
Having been a forum/internet dweller for the better part of the past decade, I've read my share of writers I've disagreed with and made my share of idiotic comments towards their opinions.

But at some point, you do have to realize, as long as the writer is being genuine about his opinion, bashing him for it is silly.



I ultimately agree with you. The only critics who ever feel my wrath or merit my ignorance are either people who write reviews that I feel do not helpfully assess the film (like Rex Reed did with 'Funny People') or the ones who make either inane or lazy comments about a film (I disliked it when one film critic called 'The Dark Knight' incomprehensible, which implies the cognitive level of a five year old). I get partially peeved when a critic calls a film overlong - essentially stating that much of the material should be cut - and then makes no attempt to elaborate, as if it were self-explanatory (James sidestepped this in his review of 'Naked', where he fully admitted he had no idea what he would cut, displaying humility). It's the lack of craft which angers me, not the content.


Sat Aug 22, 2009 8:52 pm
Post Re: August 20, 2009: "Black and White"
Evenflow8112 wrote:
I get partially peeved when a critic calls a film overlong - essentially stating that much of the material should be cut - and then makes no attempt to elaborate, as if it were self-explanatory (James sidestepped this in his review of 'Naked', where he fully admitted he had no idea what he would cut, displaying humility). It's the lack of craft which angers me, not the content.


I agree that the "overlong" statement can be a cop-out. That's not to say everyone needs to point out what exactly they'd cut, but they should explain their feelings in a bit more depth.

That said, I do understand the feeling. For example, LA Confidential is overlong to me, in that I feel it adds up to less than the sum of its parts, but I can't tell you (and I've thought about it) what (if any) scene or scenes I would get rid of.

As far as White goes, I think he's gone off the deep end a bit, but I certainly don't think he's a bad writer. His review of Killer of Sheep is a masterwork of criticism.


Sun Aug 23, 2009 1:33 am
Post Re: August 20, 2009: "Black and White"
For starters, I hadn't heard of Armond White before reading this ReelThoughts entry. First thing I did read the links which James provided and then read a few of White's pieces on film. I hesitate to use the word 'review'. The reason is that people can sign their name to a piece of writing on the topic of a particular film, but this does not mean that all these people are doing the same thing. Some might just 'give an opinion'. Others might analyze the film. Still others might have an even broader agenda, with the 'review' being a platform for delivering some other message. The same person may do different things at different times.

Have a look at this analysis of Pauline Kael's writing. You'll recognize a lot Armond White in the article. The important point to notice is that people can bring a lot to the act of writing about films. Kael, for example, seemed to have an agenda. For her, a film was a part of the social world and she interpreted a film in that way. So, for example, even if the film did not explicitly have a political message, the mere fact that the film existed meant that it fit somewhere into the social/political spectrum. As such it was a target, and she often criticized films as social objects in terms of her own social/political perspective.

Social/political perspectives aside, some reviewers first decide whether they like a film or not (for whatever reason). They then go about praising the hell out of one they like, and ridicule the ones they don't. Parody and ridicule is sometimes entertaining - James reserves the style of critique for the one-star films. Others use the rhetorical technique to score points in an imaginary debate. It's a way in which some reviewers have an outlet for their own creativity - find clever ways to say something nasty.

Mere opinion does not impress me, especially when the defense of mere opinion is used to create a level field where quality of opinion is neutralized. What some anonymous person likes or not just does not interest me. Although it is possible to describe why you like or dislike a film, there is nothing to defend with rational argument. Liking vs disliking is not the same as good vs bad film. Analyzing a film in terms of the standards of the craft is both more interesting and informative of the film as an object, and a film is more or less good according to the standards of the craft. This is the sort of review that James writes - and also easily explains the often huge gulf between a critical review of a film (such as Transformers) and the reactions of the target audience.

Another way in which a film can be analyzed is in terms of its meaning, either the intrinsic message, or the film generally as a part of society in general. Not many reviewers write these sorts of pieces, certainly not for the reviews intended for immediate reading. Kael's reviews were often laced with commentary at this level, and from what I've seen White seems to do the same thing. The style can lead to some strange analysis.

Where does White fit into all this? Seems to me the guy has an agenda, although I don't yet understand precisely what the agenda is (one theory I came across is that he's writing for a New York in-group, but that begs the question what the ideology of this in-group is). There are just too many cheap rhetorical devices in what he writes, seeming to support the agenda rather than further the analysis of film, for me to trust what he's doing.


Sun Aug 23, 2009 3:48 am
Post Re: August 20, 2009: "Black and White"
Is it telling at all that the only link to Armond White that James providied in that Reelthoughts was to a story in which he accuses him of lying?

or am I just being a contrarian? :)

or maybe I used the word "that" too many times in one sentence.


Sun Aug 23, 2009 7:47 am
Post Re: August 20, 2009: "Black and White"
I read the first half of the article.
i got the impression that he likes the sound of his own voice in print.
I also feels that babbles on alot.
He could get his views accross with an awfull lot less text.


Tue Aug 25, 2009 7:35 am
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Post Re: August 20, 2009: "Black and White"
MrGuinness wrote:
Is it telling at all that the only link to Armond White that James providied in that Reelthoughts was to a story in which he accuses him of lying?

or am I just being a contrarian? :)

or maybe I used the word "that" too many times in one sentence.


I don't accuse him of lying; I accuse him of not fact-checking his source. White does not claim to have been a party to these discussions; he writes things like "it has been reported" and so forth. He is essentially presenting secondhand information. Anytime a journalist does that, especially when the information borders on being libelous, it needs to be checked. How? Well, Ebert is alive and easy to reach. A simple e-mail to him asking for confirmation or denial would have been sufficient. That obviously didn't happen. So White printed an unconfirmed (and apparently inaccurate) rumor as being fact.

So I don't think he lied, but I do think he used horrible journalistic judgment.


Tue Aug 25, 2009 9:51 am
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Post Re: August 20, 2009: "Black and White"
James Berardinelli wrote:
MrGuinness wrote:
Is it telling at all that the only link to Armond White that James providied in that Reelthoughts was to a story in which he accuses him of lying?

or am I just being a contrarian? :)

or maybe I used the word "that" too many times in one sentence.


I don't accuse him of lying; I accuse him of not fact-checking his source. White does not claim to have been a party to these discussions; he writes things like "it has been reported" and so forth. He is essentially presenting secondhand information. Anytime a journalist does that, especially when the information borders on being libelous, it needs to be checked. How? Well, Ebert is alive and easy to reach. A simple e-mail to him asking for confirmation or denial would have been sufficient. That obviously didn't happen. So White printed an unconfirmed (and apparently inaccurate) rumor as being fact.

So I don't think he lied, but I do think he used horrible journalistic judgment.


James is 100% correct. White didn't "lie" because he most likely believed what he was writing - he was simply wrong, apparently. The problem is, he's relaying secondhand information as fact and claiming it was an "insider's story" to boost the credibility. Like James said, when that story could be considered libelous, going on simply an "insider's story" isn't enough to make it credible. White could very easily have asked Ebert for confirmation, but chose to go ahead and print it anyway. The added problem is White now looses credibility because he chose to print something about Ebert that Ebert denied. It's basically White's word vs. Ebert's word, and that should hardly convince anyone of the truth of White's claim. Who you believe in this saga is irrelevant because you can't prove either one is telling the truth. That is the exact opposite of what a journalist is supposed to do - they are supposed to clarify situations by reporting the truth, not muddle them by reporting heresay.


Tue Aug 25, 2009 10:20 am
Post Re: August 20, 2009: "Black and White"
Just read Armond White's long article for the first time and all I have to say is....

Well boo-freakin'-hoo, Mr. White. So film criticism doesn't go so deeply philosophical as it once did, choosing instead to illustrate whether a particular movie is "worth reccommending" or not. Big deal. Maybe that's not what everyone wants. Stick to your style, by all means. It has its place, like anything else. But don't attack people as morons simply because their tastes in movies (or methods of movie-reviewing, in this case) aren't to your liking. This sort of talking-down to people by a movie critic is annoying at best and offensive at worst.


Wed Aug 26, 2009 6:45 pm
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